It has been five years since public school districts throughout Missouri banded together to fight for equal and adequate funding from the state of Missouri.



And next month, that fight is being taken all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court.

It has been five years since public school districts throughout Missouri banded together to fight for equal and adequate funding from the state of Missouri.

And next month, that fight is being taken all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court.

“We continue to believe that the foundation formula is not equitable and certainly does not treat the Independence School District well,” said Independence Superintendent Jim Hinson. “It is not only about the adequacy, but about the equity for our kids.”

The lawsuit was filed in 2004 by the Committee for Educational Equality and the Coalition to Fund excellent Schools, groups that represent more than 240 of the 524 school districts in Missouri.

Independence, Blue Springs, Fort Osage and Oak Grove school districts are part of the plaintiff group.

The districts are challenging two issues – the adequacy and equality of Missouri’s foundation formula, the main funding mechanism for the state’s public schools, as well as the inaccuracy of property assessments in some areas of the state. The schools that are represented by the Coalition to Fund Excellent Schools believe some property is being undervalued, meaning some districts are not receiving as much state funding as they should.

The lawsuit took a hit in 2007, when Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan ruled that the Missouri State Constitution does not provide a guarantee of absolute “equity, equality or adequacy in the dollars spent.” In addition, Callahan said that the state constitution only requires that at least 25 percent of state revenues be used to fund public schools and that the state was in compliance with that mandate.

Both the Committee for Educational Equality and the Coalition to Fund Excellent Schools disagreed, saying that students continued to be harmed by the under-funding of essential resources and appealed the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court, which plans to hear the appeal in May.

Fort Osage Superintendent Larry Ewing said the same issues that were present in 2004 remain today.

“Nothing has changed as far as our school district is concerned,” he said. “The new formula, as it is now, does not treat our school district particularly well. Until we create a formula that is considered more equitable and one that is fully funded, this issue remains important.”

Currently, Blue Springs receives much of its $162 million budget, 64.3 percent, from local revenue, and 32.2 percent comes from the state (roughly $51 million).

Fort Osage receives only 43.5 percent of its $65 million budget from local revenues. Because of the lack of businesses in the school district, more than 50 percent (roughly $32 million) comes directly from the state.

Independence receives 47.4 percent of its $210 million budget from local sources, while about 41.40 percent (roughly $86 million) comes from the state.

The remainder of district funds come from federal sources.

Most area superintendents agree that if the old foundation formula, the one that was used prior to 2005, was fully funded, then that would be fair to most school districts in the state. The problem, however, was during the state’s budget crisis in the early part of the decade, severe funding cuts were made to education, prompting the original lawsuit.

Because more than 200 school districts make up the organizations that have filed the lawsuit, legal fees are collected on a per pupil basis from the participating districts.

According to district officials, Fort Osage has spent between $25,000 and $30,000 total over the last five years, while Independence has paid out just more than $30,000.

Kim Brightwell, Chief Financial Officer for the Blue Springs School District, said the legal fee payments are not an annual process. She said the last payment of $7,200 Blue Springs made was in 2007. She said she is unsure about how much in legal fees have been paid since 2004.

“The whole reason we are still concerned about the adequacy and equity of school funding is because the numbers we have now are based on costs generated in 2005-06,” she said. “Nothing we buy today is based on what it cost in 2005. We need to come up with a formula that is fair to everyone.”

Shortly after the initial lawsuit was filed, the Missouri General Assembly created a new foundation formula that sets a per-pupil spending target to distribute the funding. That target is based on the spending level of schools that received perfect scores on the annual accreditation process.

But school district administrators throughout the state still feel like this new formula does not provide equal funding.

“I do believe that some school districts receive far more money than other school districts,” Hinson said. “I think that is wrong and needs to be fixed.”